بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
By Ruhaifa Adil
Everybody loves to hear a good story. Stories not only stir our imagination and creativity but also teach us valuable lessons and morals. It is for this reason that the Qur’an is full of stories of the prophets, previous nations and long-forgotten events. Each tale is full of wisdom, lessons and warnings and has entranced Muslims, non-Muslims and historians for more than 1,400 years.
Whether young or old, everyone can relate to the stories in the Qur’an. This is because Allah (st) is the best storyteller of all times. Even when He repeats a story in the Qur’an, it is retold in such a way that new lessons can be derived from it, new angles are revealed and greater meaning is added to the tale.
As parents, we love to tell stories to our children. Each one of us has our own style of relating stories. Whatever our style though, it is our job to bring the stories alive for our children so that they are able to learn from them the morals we intend to teach. The following are some tips to help you become a great storyteller, and to help you use this tool to help shape your child’s personality.
1. Tell a story you enjoy
If you don’t enjoy a story, you will not be able to bring it alive for your child. Find a story that has meaning for you, or find a way to enjoy it before you sit down to tell it. Many parents face the difficulty of children preferring fiction story books over stories of the prophets, the companions and the Seerah. You need to fall in love with these stories yourself before you can get your audience to love them too.
2. Start with a warm-up
You need to warm-up the children before you launch into your story. A surefire way to kill a story before it begins is to say, “Today I’m going to tell you a story about…” You can hook your children’s attention in a number of ways. Put out a prop related to your story, and ask the children what it is and what they think the story may be about. For example, a great way to warm-up before relating the story of Yunus (as) is to put out a toy whale, and ask the children what it is, what whales do, what they eat, and would they believe that a man was eaten up by a whale yet came out alive?* Another exercise might be to give children verbal hints, or play 20 questions to help them guess who/what the story is about. For example, tell them the story is about a huge grey animal whose nose has the same name as part of a tree. This could help you lead into the story of Abraha and the elephants related in Surah Al-Feel (Juz 30)
3. Make the characters alive
Variety in your delivery is important! Change your tone, speed, volume, rhythm and pauses to add life to each character. When Abu Jahl scorns the Prophet (sa), show it with your face and your hands. When the Prophet (sa) is covered with blood after the people of Taif stone him, yet he forgives them, let his mercy reflect in your voice. When Ayub (as) is afflicted with trials, let his dua resonate through your expressions. Remember to keep a watch on your audience for signs of distraction as cues to change strategies.
4. Props and sound effects
Props are a great tool to use for children of all ages, depending on the story of course. From animal figurines for Noah’s story, to a detailed map for rendering an account of the battles post-Hijra, props are a great tool to get children to get actively involved in any story. Props can also be used to add sound effects to your rendition of the events. Make sure, however, that your props do not distract from the story or take up too much time and energy.
5. Change the perspective
A great way to tell the same story is to change the perspective of the story by making a secondary character the narrator. Telling the story of Sulayman (as) from the perspective of the hoopoe bird might be a great way to grab your children’s attention. This technique can change a dull story or an oft-repeated one into something fresh.
6. Get your audience involved!
Other ways to get children involved beyond props is to have them repeat lines of a story. You can get them to repeat, “Why did you do that!” every time Musa (as) gets perplexed at Khidr’s actions. You can also get the children to act out some parts or provide sound effects. Another great way to get them involved is to ask them to predict what happens next. Ask them why they think so and guide them through hints to come close to the real events in the story before continuing on.
7. Post-story play
The best story is one that stays with the children. Have an activity such as a pretend/ role-play planned, or a thinking session for the older ones to help children completely absorb the spirit of the tale.
Some other things to remember are
- Sit in a comfortable place
- Make sure there are no distractions
- Make sure you face the children, sitting in the middle
- If you are reading out from a book, make sure the book faces the children
- If there is only one child, a great place to seat the child is in your lap
In today’s media-driven world, storytelling can be a great way to nurture the qualities of listening and appreciation for the spoken word in our children. Try to use some of these tips to light a fire in your child’s imagination, a love in their hearts for stories of substance, and a desire to learn from them!
* Any toys with human or animal faces must adhere to established Islamic guidelines about them.
Ruhaifa Adil is a mother of four, a practising Muslimah, an avid reader, and a passionate writer. She works primarily as a trainer for mothers and teachers, advocating a multi sensorial, learner-centred approach, which she has learnt through her work as a remedial specialist for children with dyslexia. She is also an author of English textbooks, based on the teachings of the Qur’an (currently under editing), and creative director of a Tafseer app for kids (soon to be launched Insha’Allah).
© IIPH 2015